DEFENSE LEADS BIRDS TO UPSET WIN OVER SAINTS
Rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts turns in great effort to help Eagles earn fourth win of the season. Birds rush for 246 yards as a team.
The Eagles became the latest NFC East team to defeat a top team in the NFL. The woeful division is finally starting to play well and have an impact on the season for reasons other than embarrassment.
The Birds, behind rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts, held on to knock off the New Orleans Saints 24-21, who entered the game at the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The NFC East, over the last two weeks has knocked league-leading teams including the
Pittsburgh Steelers (Washington), Seattle Seahawks (Giants) and now the New Orleans Saints. All these teams had a lot riding on the game. Better late than never.
The Eagles (4-8-1), pushed the Saints (10-3) out of the top seed for the playoffs and can still win the NFC East.
They must certainly win their three remaining games – at Arizona, at Dallas and home against Washington to have a chance. The Birds will need help. But it can be done.
The Eagles had two players rush for over 100 yards. Hurts rushed 18 times for 106 yards and Miles Sanders carried the ball 14 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
As a team, the Eagles rushed 36 times for 246 yards against the No. 1 rated defense in the NFL.
Head coach Doug Pederson was reluctant to heap praise on Hurts who also was 17 of 30 for 167 yards and a touchdown.
“It took everybody in uniform to win this game, not just one guy,” Pederson said. “And I'm going to repeat myself again that it takes a village to get this stuff done, and Jalen was a part of it, yes. But it took a team effort to win, honestly. Again, I talked about the defense earlier, the plays that they made just time and time again. Again, Jalen was a part of it.
“It's great to get this win,” the coach continued. “These guys are excited. It's been awhile since we've won a football game. I'm happy for those guys in the locker room, for the coaches, the hard work that everybody put into this. But we've still got three games left and got a great opportunity. We've got to go on the road here the next couple weeks and try to continue it again.”
The Eagles took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter when Hurts fired a 15-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. Hurts was clobbered on the play by who wad called for roughing the passer.
The Birds made it 10-0 on a 44-yard Jake Elliott field goal. The score was set up by an interception of Saints quarterback Jaysom Hill by linebacker Duke Riley.
Riley gave the credit for his interception to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“Honestly, I give all credit to Jim Schwartz on that, on my interception. He called a great call, he put me in the right position to be in that spot for the play. So as soon as I caught the ball I ran on the sideline and gave it to him. At practice he always talks about, ‘next man up, everyone has to be ready.’ He puts everyone in position, he does a really good job of keeping the young guys ready. That’s why some of the guys came in and made some plays so like I said, I give all the credit to Jim. I think he’s doing a really good job with the defense and like I said, that interception was the call that he picked. And Jalen Mills had good pressure on the quarterback so I give my shoutout to Mills. Everybody just doing their job, it just happens like that sometimes, I’m just fortunate enough it was me.”
Riley was asked if he knew the interception ball was deflected by one of his teammates.
“Yea, I think when Mills was pressuring him. I don’t know how it happened I just know I was in the right spot at the right time. I just looked up and I saw tipped ball and I just caught it. I wish I would have scored though to be honest with you.”
With 1:47 left in the first half, the Birds looked like they were going to blow out the Saints when Sanders took a handoff at the Eagles 18-yard like and raced 82 yards for a touchdown to go up 17-0
The Eagles defense forced another three-and-out, sacking quarterback Taysom Hill for a four-yard loss.
With :57 left in the half Hurts led the Eagles on a seven-play, 70-yard drive that stalled at the two-yard line with two seconds left.
A brilliant first half ended with a deflating missed 22-yard field goal by Jake Elliott. It's actually hard to miss a kick from that close.
Birds got ball to start the second half. And seemed to lose the mojo that propelled them to the three-score lead.
Three consecutive drives stalled going into the fourth quarter produced zero points.
Meanwhile New Orleans took advantage of the Eagles loss of three of their best defenders, starting cornerbacks Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox and safety Rodney McLeod.
The Saints made it 17-7 on a Alvin Kamara five-yard touchdown run that capped off a 10-play, 65-yard drive..
New Orleans made the score 17-14 after brilliant 37-yard pass from Hill to Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone.
It looked like the Saints were rolling downfield for another score, driving from their own five-yard line to a first-and-ten from midfield. But the Eagles defensive line came up big.
The Saints were facing a fourth and two at the Eagles 42. Hill took the snap and was strip sacked by defensive end Josh Sweat., defensive tackle Javon Hargrave recovered.
Sweat talked about getting turnovers from Hill.
“Some of the plays we noticed that he was holding the ball,” said Sweat, who finished with four total tackles, two sacks and two quarterback hurries. “We figured it would be a lot of boot and stuff like that, so we would have opportunities. I'll be honest, when he did that sprint out, I was like, 'Damn, I might not make it [laughter]'. Something just made me keep running and he held on to the ball and I pretty much saw an opportunity to strip the ball out. I thought I was going to get the recovery but good thing my boy was there.”
Hill finished 28 of 38 for 291 yards and two touchdown passes. He was sacked five times. Alvin Kamara rushed for 50 yards on 11 carries.
There is 9:49 left in the fourth quarter when the Hurts started a drive at their own 47-yard line.
The Birds went on a six-play, 53-yard drive that ended with Sanders literally following guard Nate Herbig into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown to give the home team a 14-14 lead with 6:22 left in the fourth.
Hill led the Saints on a 10-play drive that stalled at the Eagles 39-yard line. Two of the last three plays on the drive were stopped after sacks by Sweat and Hargrave.
Facing a fourth and 16, down ten points, Saints head coach Sean Peyton decided to led Wil Lutz try a field goal from 57 yards, It was short and to the right with 1:55 left.
The Eagles took over at the their own 47-yard line. The Birds could ice the game with a firs down.
But it's 2020 and of course, on the second play, Hurts attempted to run the ball and fumbled.
Of all people, Saints safety and former Eagles Super Bowl hero Malcolm Jenkins recovered.
Hill needed just three plays and 18 seconds to score on a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jared Cook to make the score 24-21 with 1:24 left in the fourth.
The dramatic on-sides kick was recovered by Jalen Mills....and that was that that.
Jenkins was asked how tough this loss was considering the Saints were the number one seed going into this game:
“We still have it in front of us, we just have to play," said Jenkins, who finished with five total tackle in addition to his fumble recovery. "At the end of the day, you can’t control everything but the game in front of you. We thought we had an opportunity. We didn’t play well earlier in the game, We dug ourselves back out, so obviously it’s frustrating, but for us our goals are still very much alive and in front of us. [We have] a really good opponent coming up next week, so it’s really about making sure we make the corrections and show up better next week.”
Hurts was asked if he was nervous going into his first NFL start. The 22-year old would not go there.
“It was a new experience for me, for sure, my first NFL start out there,” He said. ”I’m excited that I was able to do it with this group of guys, with this team. We’re ready to get back to work and fix the things we need to fix.”
Hurts was asked about his interactions with Carson Wentz, the man he replaced. He was also asked what his teammates said to him.
“Yeah, he had a few tips for me,” Hurts said. “A few little things pointing out here and there – certain looks, seeing the space of the defense – so he was really helpful this week. As far as the team, the guys just told me to be you...go out there and be J-Hurts, everything else will take care of itself.
"We all had each other’s back, that’s the beauty in all of this. We had each other’s back going out there against a really good football team and we had so much money we left on the table. Moving forward, we just want to continue to build, learn from mistakes and, hopefully, progress.” *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii